Changing a Relationship
I have spent the last few months debating with myself about whether to write this blog post, as the topic is particularly personal. However, it has been a period of time in which I have been particularly reflective, and in which my mindfulness practice has been most crucial.
In January of this year I split up with my husband. In the process, I learned a lot about myself, about relationships and about the applications of mindfulness off the cushion. It has been a painful process but one that is about greater authenticity.
One of the things I have been most struck by is the importance of gratitude and perspective. As human beings, we have an innate tendency to focus on the negative (negativity bias). When I moved from the home I shared with my husband into a small, rather cold flat, I could have chosen to focus on where I had gone wrong. However, what I focused on instead was the kindness of my friends. I received texts and phone calls from people asking how I was; I received cards and housewarming gifts; and a friend even let me move in for three weeks until my flat was ready.
Over the course of the last six months; from deciding to leave to taking the plunge, self-compassion and self-kindness have been of the utmost importance. In retrospect I probably stayed in a relationship that wasn’t working for either of us. We were both trying to make each other happy, and in the process forgot about our own happiness. Leaving was an opportunity to learn to focus on my own happiness. This might appear selfish but ultimately I now realise that we cannot be responsible for the happiness of others, but I could do something for me. There have been moments when the pain and sadness of the separation hits me. I see or say something that reminds me of my old routine – aspects of how my life used to be. And it is a form of grief, often tinged with a sense of shame and regret. Sometimes it is a regret that the marriage ‘failed’ and I wasn’t able to make it work. Sometimes it is a fear that I have made a huge mistake. Sometimes it is a regret that I didn’t leave sooner. In those moments, when I can, I consider the work of Kristen Neff, on self-compassion. She defines self-compassion as comprising of three elements: awareness, shared humanity, and kindness. I acknowledge the unpleasantness of how I am feeling; I then remind myself that, although my situation is unique in some ways, the raw emotions are part of being human; I then try to be kind to myself. Sometimes that kindness is simply giving myself permission to feel my feelings.
Ending a marriage and watching that marriage transform into a friendship is a process of letting go. There remain areas that my ex and I do not agree on. Much of this no longer matters. If I choose to hold onto the feelings of hurt and the sense of righteous indignation then there is no hope of a friendship. We both tried our best and it is sad but it is only by letting go of the past that we can form something positive for the future.
When I think about living a future that is so different to the one I planned on my wedding day, it can be overwhelming. Mindfulness comes into play once again. I don’t need to plan long term. I simply need to ask myself how I am in this moment. Invariably, in this moment I am doing ok – even if I am sad, or angry or ashamed, I am still doing ok.